What the Rolling Stones can teach your business

As London began to swing, shaking off the shackles of post-war austerity, five likely lads sauntered into the Marquee Club on the night of July 12, 1962 and struck up a racket that would change the world.

The Rolling Stones are celebrating half a century of getting their rocks off and also making a tidy fortune to boot along the way.

While the musical contribution of the Stones is evident by just reeling off the names of hits such as (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and Sympathy for the Devil, a convincing case can also be made that they are among the most successful money-makers in music history.

It probably helped the band’s fortunes that, as well as being a charismatic performer, vocalist Mick Jagger had picked up a trick or two from his time as a business student at the London School of Economics.

As Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics put it in an interview with Worth, the loose-limbed frontman was a canny operator: “People tend not to see music as a business, but once you work with a musician like Mick Jagger, you immediately see how aware he is of his brand – both the Mick Jagger brand and the Rolling Stones brand.”

While Jagger is very much the public face and chief executive of Rolling Stones Inc, many credit the regally titled Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein with setting “The world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band” on the path to making enough money to be always able to get what they want.

Loewenstein was brought into the fold in 1971 after the Stones fell out with their American manager, Allen Klein. As part of the split settlement with Klein, the band lost a large chunk of the royalty rights to most of the songs they recorded in the 1960s ­– a massive financial blow to the group.

Loewenstein – who says he had never heard of the Stones until Jagger called him – immediately restructured the Stones as a business.

Keith Richards revealed Loewenstein’s financial wiles in a 2002 interview with Fortune: “He is a great financial mind for the market. He plays that like I play guitar.”

Loewenstein was with the Stones until 2007 and the financial foundation he helped lay down – like a solid Charlie Watts beat – saw the band generate personal fortunes for its main members, Jagger, Richards, bassist Bill Wyman, and drummer Charlie Watts. Of course, as the chief songwriting duo, Jagger and Richards got a larger chunk.

According to the Celebrity Networth website, Mick Jagger’s net worth is $US305 million, while Richards is not too far behind on $US280 million.

You might never write a riff as catchy as Start Me Up (or get paid the reported $US4 million the band did when Microsoft used the song in its Windows 95 campaign), but businesses can learn a thing or two from the Stones that keep on rolling.

Here are seven things The Rolling Stones can teach business owners about making money:

1. Pay your dues, learn from the masters

The Stones put in the hard yards in little clubs, playing blues classics by the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

Likewise, smart leaders should be honing their chops by learning the licks and tricks of the pioneers and innovators in their industry, whether it’s Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Ikea’s Ingvar Kamprad.

As the Stones showed, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; you just have to roll a new way.

2. Know your brand

London School of Economics graduate Mick Jagger always had a touch of the bad boy about him. Having Keith Richards by his side only upped the band’s devilish appeal.

The Stones knew they were not The Beatles and set about refining their brand of swagger and teen rebellion, often in opposition to the public image of the more palatable mop tops.

The Stones understood that, through their music, they had something special: young men wanted to be like them, and young women wanted to be with them.

In her book The Power of Unpopular, author Erika Napoletano talks about “getting your black sheep on”, which means that brands should be prepared not to be liked by everybody. The strategy has been used to varying degrees by many brands and can create a strong sense of brand identity (cool Apple users versus daggy PC users), community, and loyalty.

While developing a Keith Richards-style drug problem probably won’t enhance your particular brand, having the conviction to accept that your product or service might not be to everyone’s liking can liberate you to speak with confidence and authority to your real customers.

3. Classic iconography can help

Like the Apple logo, the Nike swoosh, or the Coca-Cola dynamic ribbon, the Stones’ lips and tongue logo has entered into the collective cultural subconscious – when you see it, you know rock ‘n’ roll is not too far away.

Designed by John Pasche in 1970 for the Rolling Stones’ record label after the band split from the Decca label, it captures the sexy and rebellious nature of the Stones. Licensed to appear on T-shirts, bags, mugs, and a million other things, the logo and its attendant merchandise has created a healthy little revenue stream for the band.

4. Don’t be afraid to diversify…

The Stones had their psychedelic (She’s a Rainbow – trippy!) and disco (Miss You – do the hustle!) periods, just as many businesses move into ventures that don’t always mesh with their core business.

Diversifying can make sense for a business when the conditions in which it trades have changed or when an opportunity presents itself to move into potentially profitable new areas.

As Richard Branson’s Virgin group has shown over the years that it’s possible to branch out successfully into new ventures. Back in 1972, when Branson spun off his record store into a record label that released some decidedly odd music (Gong’s Flying Teapot album is a pearler), few would have guessed the Virgin group of companies would one day include finance, travel, and telco divisions.

Common to Branson and the Stones is an understanding that a strong core philosophy and belief can take you into new genres or businesses.

5. But don’t forget your core values

Excursions into new ventures can be good, but always remember what your fans or customers loved you for in the first place. Staying true to your sound/idea/service gives you integrity.

The Stones might have gone psychedelic on Their Satanic Majesties Request, but just like Coca-Cola, they did not ditch the classic version of the brand and soon came back to their blues rocking roots on Beggars Banquet.

6. Recruit well, work with the right people

At one point, founding member and guitarist Brian Jones was almost a bigger star than Jagger and Richards, but his inconsistency and drug problems had started to adversely affect the band.

The Stones drafted Mick Taylor (replaced by the impish Ronnie Wood in 1975) – an equally talented but far less temperamental guitarist – to replace the troubled Jones.

Smart recruitment has served the Stones well over their 50 years, as evidenced by their financial partnership with Loewenstein, as well as corporate partnerships with the likes of Budweiser.

7. Work hard, play hard

The Stones are good at what they do. It’s why they have been able to tour the world well into their pensionable years and make a mint doing so.

Rolling Stone magazine estimated the band grossed a remarkable $US869 million from tours throughout the 2000s. While the overheads involved in these massive tours would have been substantial, you can be sure Mick and the boys had their backroom team work out the best arrangements in minimising expenses and tax bills, using their tax shelter holding companies in the Netherlands.

Tour and merchandise revenue have also become vital since the advent of diminished returns from album sales for the Stones in the past 20 years.


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